How TV News Covered Day Two of the Hurricane

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 30 2012 7:44 PM

The Hurricane on TV, Day Two

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Michael Bloomberg

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Before the storm, Michael Bloomberg went on television wearing a rather prissy sort of preppy sweater, and the boys at my Friday-night poker game cracked on him for it. Was he managing a crisis in the greatest city in the world or was he attending a parents’ day picnic at Spence? Over the weekend, he butched up to a mock turtleneck half-zip, and on Twitter, Jerry Seinfeld approved: “Shows preparedness.” At a briefing on Monday afternoon, when the storm was at the doorstep, he had escalated to suit and tie. My cable and Internet went out shortly thereafter, leaving me to wonder what a further sartorial upgrade would signal. What might the world and the market make of his presiding over the Office of Emergency Management while wearing an evening suit?

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

In the middle of the night, I checked Twitter on my phone. The news was bad and the tone hysterical, and I nodded back off dreaming that Bloomberg would next appear on TV in white tie and tails, inviting all eight million of us to crash at the subaquatic lair beneath his house in Bermuda. The night was dark and stormy, and I got up to fix a drink with ginger beer and Gosling’s Black Seal rum. 

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I was unable to reach the USPTO to confirm this, but I understand the dark and stormy to be the rarest of cocktails, one sporting a trademarked name. Gosling’s Export says you better recognize the Dark ‘N’ Stormy™. I expect this variant of that yacht-club classic to satisfy the prep sailors known to grasp a glass of the original in a leather-brown paw and dip in a rosaceate nose.

The Frak ‘N’ Stormy: Fill a red-wine glass to the brim with ice. Pour in three or four ounces of ginger beer, preferably Barritt’s. Add more ice. Fill the glass with Gosling’s Black Seal to two-toned effect. Garnish with a half-wheel of lime and serve alongside the rest of the can of ginger beer and sit on the sofa hearing jazz on the radio and weather on the windows. Toast to the health of the living and the memory of the dead.

The sun rose. The cable was back, and cable news, in the person of Soledad O’Brien on CNN, was demonstrating that the Battery was not at the moment underwater, so we got on with things. New York City had been chewed up at the edges and a construction crane dangled from a luxury high-rise in the middle of Midtown, like a bad metaphor, but the parts of it that had not been flooded or otherwise fucked carried on, went out to buy some fresh bread. “The gourmet market’s open,” said a man entering a gourmet market. “It’s gonna be OK.” 

While the street was in aftermath mode, the TV—all three networks—were going with “Tracking Sandy” down in the chyron. The implicit political idea of the morning was that Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie were the 2016 front-runners. Christie wore a mock turtleneck half-zip, somewhat larger than Bloomberg’s, most notably in the matter of the monogram: GOVERNOR. Early in the day, Christie intimated that the mayor of Atlantic City was a clown; eight hours later, the mayor was doing phone interviews to rebut the charge. In the very act of so doing, he acted as a witness against his own character. Why was he wasting time amplifying a spat when he was supposed to be getting A.C. back in action? You could feel pit bosses and pimps bristling at his vanity.

The local channels had crowded the national morning shows to the digital fringes of the dial, with the hometown anchors serving as civic administrators. In the trance of taking in the disaster, I started wondering how to interpret the art direction of the channels’ respective sets, wondering what to make of the various cityscape backdrops. The WCBS background, composed in strict accordance with the rule of thirds, places the Empire State Building at one co-anchor’s inner shoulder. It’s a gauzy picture that posits the rest of the world as a Saul Steinberg blur in the building’s floodlights. WNBC, broadcasting from 30 Rock, sees the city as a Deco palace. WNYW, the Fox affiliate, gives a view from Brooklyn that doesn’t quite exist but nonetheless conveys the effect of having been taken to dinner at the River Café: You see the Brooklyn Bridge and all the tallest towers of Lower Manhattan behind it, except for the one still in progress. WABC has something so powerfully generic that it is difficult to identify. I think it’s a boring view of lower Midtown as seen from Long Island such that the anchors are bantering across the East 30s, and the thingie on top of the Condé Nast Building perches like an Apollo Lunar Module atop the female anchor’s chic haircut.

The nature of this natural disaster is such that the affiliates preceded the network news divisions and the cablers to the Sandy’s Aftermath phase of the narrative. “I don’t know how they go about starting it,” was the refrain as we surveyed the damage. “Where do you even start?” Good question. If you are a senior at a good college and you are capable of delivering a broad-strokes answer to that question in a confident tone, then there is an entry-level job in management consulting for you. Don’t take it. 

Hosting her regular show on Fox News in the afternoon, Megyn Kelly covered the storm with compassion but not at length. Whither the weather at Fox? I have to wonder whether the meteorologists on its air chat with the bosses about climate change. Megyn Kelly went to break, and there was a great commercial for gold. “Protect your future from the problems of the world,” the man said. “What’s in your safe?” he added. I thought that was just a tagline, like “What’s in your wallet?” Or maybe a simple metaphor meaning, “What’s in your portfolio?” Yes and yes—but also it was a promotional offer: “With a minimum order, get a free safe to store your gold.”